GALA FAIRYDEAN ROVERS - MOVING FORWARD 119 YEARS ON....
In order to move football forward in Galashiels, it was necessary to turn the clock back 119 years.
It was in 1894 that the name Gala Fairydean Rovers first surfaced in the pages of the local press. The history books show that they dropped the name Fairydean following the amalgamation of the town's two major clubs, Hailes Villa and Gala Renton, in 1907. Gala Rovers continued as the reserve side to the newly-formed Gala Fairydean until 1914 when events elsewhere in Europe took its toll on the male population of the town. Fairydean - one of Scottish football's most romantic names and comes from the fabled "fairy dean" in Elwyn Glen on the back road to Melrose - were back in business in 1919 and were the fore-runners of the East of Scotland League formed in 1923. But it was not until 1947 that Gala Rovers were re-formed. While they were never officially linked, the relationship between the clubs was so close that they were able to jointly raise £25,000 to build the current day concrete grandstand which was officially opened in 1964.
Adam McClory - who has been watching the Fairydean as supporter and committee member for almost 60 years - said:"In those days the two clubs had a joint lottery which was a huge money-spinner. It used to have a £100 weekly first prize. To put that in context, people were earning £10 a week in the mills at the time. So there was always a lot of anticipation in the town on Tuesdays when the lottery result was drawn.
"The Fairydean spent quite a bit of money on players as they had a very successful team in the early 1960s with the likes of ex-Hearts Bobby Kirk as player-manager but the Rovers didn't need to so the lottery was able to build up a big reserve to pay for the stand." Galashiels-born architect Peter Womersley was commissioned to design the cantilevered concrete structure with its distinctive V section vertical wings and wedge-shaped canopy which could seat 620 spectators. It was revolutionary at the time when football stands were all cast-iron or timber.
Indeed in 2006, Historic Scotland made the Netherdale grandstand only the second football stand in the country to be listed following in the footsteps of Rangers FC. Back to the mid-60s though and an agreement was struck between the clubs to give Gala Rovers - who played in the Border Amateur League - two dressing rooms they could use if Fairydean were at home before heading over to the Netherdale back pitches. Those rooms now double up as the stadium operators Borders Sport and Leisure Trust(BSLT) office and the Gala Fairydean Rovers kit room. However if the Fairydean were on their travels, the Rovers used the main dressing rooms and the "big pitch." But Galashiels is no different to other towns in the Borders where relations have been strained between amateur clubs and the senior East of Scotland League side over the years.
When the 50-year agreement finally lapsed and negotiations started to lay the £1M 3G pitch at Netherdale, the split between the Fairydean and Rovers was wider than ever and townsfolk predicted the gap could never be bridged. However, an impromptu visit by Gala Rovers stalwarts Bruce Noble and Tom Cass to the Station Hotel in Melrose - run by Gala Fairydean Honorary President Jim Gray - earlier this year proved positive and after a few "refreshments" it emerged that there was common ground which could be explored between both clubs. The Netherdale clubrooms were the venue for countless meetings over several months at committee level as the issues over an amalgamation were argued over, debated and finally resolved. The merger also co-incided with an influx of new committee members wanting to create an organised football pathway in Galashiels starting with Gala Dean and Tweedbank Thistle at primary school age level, Gala Fairydean Youths for players aged 12-17 and then Gala Hotspur and Gala Fairydean Rovers at adult level.
The proposals still had to be ratified at the annual general meeting of Gala Fairydean FC in the Netherdale clubrooms on Friday, June 21, 2013 and all the hard work could have been in vain. It is a tribute to everyone involved from both clubs in the negotiations over several months that on the night of the emotionally-charged agm, there was not one word dissent over the merger. And as a result Gala Fairydean Rovers were re-incarnated - 119 years on from when they first known to play their football in the town. Co-incidentally it happened at the same time as the Lowland League was born giving clubs in areas such as the Borders the opportunity to move up to the national set-up as part of Scottish football's new pyramid system.
Gala Fairydean Rovers FC are aiming to be that club and the new motto Unitas est fortitude (which in Latin means Unity in Strength) will be the driving force as the club strives to finally bring senior football to the Borders region.